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Recently, there has been some passionate discussion in the Williamsburg schools regarding an opinion article published in Williamsburg’s The Burger Gazette. The article titled “Petition to Change Williamsburg Voting Policy”, authored by Keslee Peterson, advocates that incoming freshmen should be allowed to participate in student body elections. The article also recommends that outgoing seniors should not participate in student body officer elections. While the first point seems to be generally accepted, the second point has faced some fierce opposition.
After reading many of the comments on Keslee’s article, I believe that some clarifications are necessary. The truth isn’t being represented accurately. I’m writing this article to clarify what I interpret to be Keslee’s argument and to educate readers about the straw man fallacy.
Let’s start with clarifying the argument that Keslee makes in her article. Keslee is arguing that seniors shouldn’t vote. The premise underlying her argument is that seniors won’t be personally affected by their vote, and being affected by the outcome of the vote is essential for one to have the right to vote. Why is this the case?
It ultimately can be boiled down to the principles of accountability and responsibility. A moral vote is held when the accountability and responsibility of the voter are equivalent to the “say” that that voter has in the election. In other words, a person’s representation should be proportionate to how they are affected by the outcome of the election. A person who should vote in an election should be the same person who corrects the election if things go wrong. This principle is demonstrated in the functioning of our own American government. If an American president is making significant mistakes that affect their ability to do their job, then it’s the people’s responsibility (through Congress) to begin the impeachment process. The people of the USA voted the person in, and in effect, have the obligation to vote the person out. This idea seems hardly controversial but seemed to be frequently misinterpreted by readers of Keslee’s article as manifested by several of the comments. Consider the following comments:
“They (outgoing seniors) are the students with the literal most experience at Williamsburg out of all non-alumni students. Most of them are committed Williamsburg students who want to see the school succeed and have learned to love said school.”
“Ok.. maybe we should make a petition to take away the vote for senior citizens over 80 in the US presidential election. They might not live to see the end of the term, so let’s take away their right to vote, given to them by the constitution. Seniors aren’t Canadians. They still go to this school, and to say they are “foreigners” is kinda silly.”
Both of these comments fail to address the argument made by Keslee; that representation should be proportionate to accountability. Keslee is asserting that Canadians should not vote in American elections not because they are unwise, not because they are foreigners or even because they don’t love America–she is saying they shouldn’t vote because they are not US citizens and therefore will not be impacted by the outcome of the vote in the same way as US citizens
Likewise, using this same logical construct, she is arguing that seniors should not have the right to vote. Keslee is saying seniors shouldn’t have the right to vote not because she believes that seniors are unwise, are foreigners, or don’t love the school– but because they are seniors– and will not be affected by the outcome of their vote.
One commenter compares Keslee’s argument to taking away the right to vote from senior citizens. However, — a more accurate metaphor would be granting the right to vote to former Americans that have moved to foreign countries and have become citizens of these countries. When seen in this more accurate context, Keslee’s argument is clearly more compelling.
Keslee’s argument is logically sound. However, many of the comments to the negative fail to demonstrate the same logical consistency. What is most perplexing is that none of the commenters offer a satisfactory answer to Keslee’s fundamental premise about where the right to vote is derived from. Instead, they seem preoccupied with Keslee’s imaginary claim (she never said anything like this in the article) that seniors aren’t wise or don’t love the school. This is manifested by many of the commenters reiterating the point that seniors love the school and are wise– a point that Keslee never contended in the first place. Consider this comment;
“Hello, having grown up in Williamsburg, and having my oldest brother attend the first ever online Williamsburg class, I have had the honor to witness Williamsburg grow. Without fail, the Seniors always know what’s best for the school.”
Seniors are awesome! This doesn’t mean they are perfect or always know what’s best. It’s also noteworthy to consider that not all seniors have experience with Williamsburg for four years; some may have just attended the school for two years or less. Senior students may not even be older either. Part of the magic of Williamsburg is that kids can challenge themselves at their own pace– and many choose to graduate early.
It goes without saying that seniors, in general, tend to have the most experience with the school, however, I disagree with the commenter that this experience gives them the right to participate in elections for officers that will govern AFTER they have left school.
The right to vote should be proportionate to how the outcome of the vote affects the voter– not proportionate to the wisdom, experience, or love for the school of the person voting. That idea, if true, raises several questions.
If the right to vote is proportionate to wisdom, and if wisdom increases with age, then should all alumni be able to vote? Or teachers, for that matter? It also follows that the older the alumni the more experienced and smarter they will be, and likewise, the greater the right to vote. What about one year after graduating? What about two? What about five? Should alumni and mentor votes be weighted more because they are older and more experienced? What about a freshman that loves the school more than most seniors? Should they be able to cast a vote that matches their passion for the school? Should students take a wisdom test that qualifies them for voting? What if a person leaves the school after one year, or even one semester, but still loves the school? Should they be given the right to vote? What if the person who leaves the school loves it more than some of the seniors? What if they are more intelligent? The questions that would need to be answered are countless if graduating seniors are allowed to vote (because they will be alumni when the presidency serves the student body).
If I were to propose a constitutional amendment that gave senior citizens in Canada multiple votes in American elections proportional to their age, wisdom, or experience, I would be laughed at. I would be laughed at because the proposal is preposterous.
It doesn’t matter how old or wise the Canadian is– they still aren’t impacted by the outcome of their vote– and so they still should not be granted the right to vote. This is the argument made by Keslee, an argument that I believe wholeheartedly to be logical and true. It comes back to that principle of accountability and responsibility. Young or old, experienced or inexperienced, likes or dislikes the school– at Williamsburg, everyone should get a vote. We should deal out the responsibility proportionately among those attending the school and being affected by its policies. If a student is no longer part of the school for any reason, whether they graduated or moved on, then they should respectfully relinquish that right. They have been represented while they were attending the school; now it’s their time to let other be represented.
Now I informed you at the beginning of this letter that I would discuss straw man fallacies. Straw man fallacies occur when a person sets up an argument (or straw so to speak), claims or implies that the argument is their opponent’s (even if it wasn’t), and then destroys that argument rather than address the argument that was actually made by their opponent. This fallacy was used frequently in the comments section below Keslee’s article. Many implied that Keslee didn’t like or respect seniors by restating how seniors should be liked and respected. While I believe this was unintentional– the straw man fallacy is something we should all be wary of. It’s a seemingly logical fallacy that is easy to accidentally commit but is both unethical and unprofessional.
I hope that this article has clarified Keslee’s points and cleared some confusion. I want to reiterate that I am not anti-senior or anti-anyone as a matter of fact. I have worked with Keslee in the past and I believe her beliefs on this voting policy mirror mine. We want the truth to be respectfully represented and respected. This is a core element of the belief of leadership that we all share here at Williamsburg.
In the end, I believe this an issue that everybody can come together on. It’s an issue I believe can unite both seniors, eighth graders, and everyone in between. Seniors can still participate in elections by endorsing candidates and otherwise using the influence they have. Eighth graders can exercise the right to vote that they deserve. Keslee’s proposal ultimately teaches leadership in meaningful ways to everybody involved. Her proposal follows elevated ethics. This change would be a powerful step forward in the direction of the principles that Williamsburg is built on.
We need not only to make Keslee’s proposed changes to our student body presidency voting policy, but we need to make them as soon as we can. Consider this quote from Martin Luther King, “The time is always right to do what is right.” We don’t put a delay on justice because it’s inconvenient. According to my knowledge, the technology that makes this school possible also makes it possible to make these changes happen in a timely matter, this semester. Sign the petition in Keslee’s article to make your voice heard!
PS. If any of you would like to discuss this article with me feel free to email me through canvas or leave a message below. I will do my best to get to all of you and to represent the truth. Thank you for reading!